Toilet paper history timeline
Toilet paper history timeline

The History of Toilet Paper

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An intro to the ways we wipe

If you’re anything like us, you can’t imagine a world without Cottonelle® Ultra ComfortCare® toilet paper – our softest, thickest and most absorbent toilet paper. But people didn’t always have it so good. Toilet paper as we know it wasn’t invented until the mid-1800s, so what did people use to wipe their bums before toilet paper? As it turns out, almost everything.

What came before toilet paper? A quick intro to wiping your bum in ancient times

The first known example of TP comes from A.D. – or rather Roman times to be exact. Romans used a sponge on a stick, known as a tersorium or xylospongium, that was kept in either a bucket of salt water or vinegar.

Tersorium aka Xylospongium, a toilet paper alternative used in medieval times

The ancient Greeks used Ostraca. Ostraca were broken pieces of ceramic pottery, kind like what a flowerpot is made out of today, that had smoothed down edges.

Early Chinese people used a wooden stick shaped like a spatula with a cloth wrapped around the end.

When was toilet paper invented?

In the 14th century, perfumed paper sheets were ‘manufactured’ for the Hongwu dynasty. But only the royal family and the imperial court had access to them.

Around the same time in Europe, people used rags to clean up after a trip to the loo. Rich Europeans used wool, hemp or even lace. But commoners used whatever cloth they had including their sleeves. Yikes.

The first mention of toilet paper appeared in Europe in the 16th century in a text by Rabelais. Spoiler alert: he was not a fan. Probably because most people in Europe at the time were using bidets. A wash basin that came directly after the chamber pot. It’s more evolved toilet-like descendant is still commonly used today.

Who invented toilet paper? Man’s REAL best friend.

In North America, throughout the 1700s, people were still wiping with whatever they had on hand. Most common were things like corncobs and seashells (ouch). But by the 1800s, paper was becoming more widely available. And finally in 1857, a New Yorker named Joseph Gayetty introduced and first patented toilet paper. He called it “Medicated Paper for the Water-Closet” and Gayetty’s name was printed on every sheet. His medicated paper contained aloe and was sold in packages of 500 sheets for 50 cents.

People still also commonly used catalogues to clean up, post-poo, in their outhouses. The Sears catalogue was a common favourite until it was printed on glossy paper. The Farmer’s Almanac was also a prized washroom possession. It was often nailed to the wall in the commode, which prompted the makers of the Almanac to sell it with a pre-drilled hole in the top, in 1919. Talk about marketing genius.

Meanwhile, in the UK in the late 1800s, the British Perforated Paper Company started producing toilet paper. It was sold in individual squares in a wooden box and was very rough.

In 1890, toilet paper started to look a lot more like stuff we’re used to seeing today. It came on a roll in perforated sheets. It was a tough sell though because no one wanted to admit to buying it. In Germany, a company called ‘ Hakle’ overcame the problem with the slogan “ask for a roll of Hakle if you don’t want to say toilet paper.”

And finally, in 1930, the first splinter-free TP was introduced. Yep. Not till 1930! If this makes you go hug your Cottonelle® Ultra ComfortCare® Toilet Paper, we totally get it.

When did toilet paper come into common use? Wiping in Modern Times

So, if toilet paper was a tough sell at first, what changed? By the end of the 19th century, more and more homes were being built with sit down, flush toilets. People needed something that could go in the bowl and fit down the pipes. Toilet paper as we know it was a natural fit.

A few more notable toilet paper facts for you:

In 1942 – two-ply paper was invented

In 1954 – coloured paper made its debut

In 1964 – perfume was added to some toilet papers

In 1973 – toilet paper started to get softer, stronger and more absorbent.

And today, we have the luxury of wiping with Cottonelle® Ultra ComfortCare® Toilet Paper. It’s our thickest, softest and most absorbent toilet paper, and is designed with our CleaningRipples® Texture for a truly Superior Clean. Follow that up with Cottonelle® Flushable Wipes for a refreshing clean*. Cottonelle® Flushable Wipes contain fibres that are 100% biodegradable and are designed to immediately start to break down in water, so they’re safe to flush.

From sticks to pottery to Cottonelle® CleaningRipples™. In terms of wiping, we’ve definitely come a long way. And we know your bottom thanks you!

*vs. dry alone

†per sheet vs. bird brand 1-ply (Canada)

Clean Background
Cottonelle® Canada Septic-Safe Toilet Paper


First, Remove more at once
with Cottonelle Cleaning
Ripples Texture ®

Cottonelle® Canada Flushable Wet Wipes


Then, use Cottonelle Flushable Wipes for a refreshing clean throughout the day

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